Popper And Falsificationism

Unlike positivists, Popper accepted the fact that "observation always presupposes the existence of some system of expectations" (1972: p. 344). For Popper, the scientific process begins when observations clash with existing theories or preconceptions. To solve this scientific problem, a theory is proposed and the logical consequences of the theory (hypotheses) are subjected to rigorous empirical tests. The objective of testing is the refutation of the hypothesis. When a theory's predictions are falsified, it is to be ruthlessly rejected. Those theories that survive falsification are said to be corroborated and tentatively accepted (Anderson, 1983). In contrast to the gradually increasing confirmation of induction, falsificationism substitutes the logical necessity of deduction. Popper exploits the fact that a universal hypothesis can be falsified by a single negative instance (Chalmers, 1976). In Popper's approach, if the deductively derived hypotheses are shown to be false, the theory itself is taken to be false. Thus the problem of induction is seemingly avoided by denying that science rests on inductive inference. Anderson (1983) notes that Popper's notion of corroboration itself depends on an inductive inference. According to falsificationism, then, science progresses by a process of "conjectures and refutations" (Popper 1962, p. 46). In this perspective, the objective of science is to solve problems. Despite the apparent conformity of much scientific practice with the falsificationist account, serious problems remain with Popper's version of the scientific method. For example, Duhem (1953) has noted that it is impossible to conclusively refute a theory because realistic test situations depend on much more than just the theory that is under investigation. Quine-Duhem thesis (Quine, 1953; Duhem, 1962) points out that because of all of the background assumptions that might be wrong -- flaws in the equipment, the effects of unknown or wrongly disregarded physical processes, and the like -any outcome can be rationally distrusted and explained away by ad hoc hypotheses that alter the background assumptions. Falsification can thus be regarded as particularly equivocal (Cook and Campbell, 1979). The recognition that established theories often resist refutation by anomalies while new theories frequently progress despite their empirical failures, led a number of writers in the 1950s to challenge the positivistic views of Popper and the logical empiricists (Suppe 1974). Various philosophers and historians noted that scientific practice is often governed by a conceptual framework or world view that is highly resistant to change. In particular, Kuhn pointed out that the established framework is rarely, if ever, overturned by a single anomaly (1962). Kuhn's model helped to initiate a new approach in the philosophy of science in which emphasis is placed on the conceptual frameworks that guide research activities.

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